So… you know when you end up reading a book in a season where you just know that you didn’t just “end up” reading it, but that it was placed in your hands for such a time as this? I’ve recently read such a one. Upon returning to Sweden from Uganda, “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp arrived in the post from my auntie in the states. In the quiet weeks of recovering from being struck by a few different illnesses one after the other, I became addicted to its message, but in such a way that I had to take long pauses between chapters to digest what I’d just been chewing on. An Abba-God I used to know was calling out to me from its pages, and asking me to get to know Him this way again…
Meanwhile, I’d just returned from a few months serving in Africa, upon the heels of a difficult year of serving in Sweden, and in the midst of preparing for a big move to a new ministry in the UK which I’d been working out for a little over a year by this point. I was tired-- the kind of tired which isn’t so much in body, though my body was definitely making me face up to its own brand of exhaustion, than it is soul. I didn’t even realize until getting lost in the pages of this book, where an ordinary woman falls deeply in love with her God through thankfulness in the every-day things, that I had plodded myself into this space where I had lost the wonder of being His. That I had served my way into “doing” for Him instead of “being” in Him. That I was sort of getting caught in running this race on auto-pilot instead of with the passion of my heart. And the awakening, though gradual, was shocking. And powerful.
He, being all kinds of wonderful, was gentle with me in the awakening. Wooing, with a familiar call, through all kinds of elements of life in these past 6 weeks (and even before, had my eyes only been open). And it’s nearly impossible to explain, but somehow, even though I’d never left Him and He’d never left me, I started to miss Him. I started to miss what we once had, when my eyes were open to the wonder of being His. That’s what ever got me into this crazy life of serving Him in whatever capacity half-way across the world. It was a reaction to such awesome, unfathomable love and grace. It was a stunned acceptance of what He is and what He wants to draw us into in walking with Him, an acknowledgement of coming to an understanding, however meager, of our place in His cosmic, redemptive plan and history. And it was, most simply, a love reaction from my heart to His because of His heart’s love for me.
And I suddenly became afraid of what it would become if I lost that wonder, that put-in-your-rightful-place gratefulness, that sense of “eucharisteo” as the book expounds on: Communion with God.
I fumble for words to describe what I mean and I know it will not come out in full… But basically, that was the base I was sitting on as I continued to work out details with the new ministry in the UK and the team I was joining. Between my starting date in July and those final weeks in Sweden, I had before me about 2 months back in the states to process work visas and fundraise thousands of dollars to make it possible to work endless hours on a voluntary basis. One week there were details of acquiring a visa which suddenly made it look like what we’d been working toward for a year would suddenly be made impossible, and I had to rethink it all. Then that was sorted, and everything was full-speed ahead again when an off-hand comment from the great team leader of the team I was about to join in the UK made me stop and reflect and see it all in a way I had never chanced to see. And suddenly within the span of 2 days, the Spirit of God was prompting me to make a decision to make a 180 degree change in plans. Some of you might know I’m not the most decisive person, and when I am, it is usually due to a gut reaction, a just “knowing” what it is I need to do. This time I didn’t have that, at least not strongly—a symptom, perhaps of being so out of touch with my intrinsic motivation of belonging to Him. The decision instead was made on a lot of logic and advice from people wiser than I. And as I sought Him and considered in those 2 days, elements of the “just knowing” began to return.
I had to decide that the time was not right to start a new challenge with a new ministry role.
There were many elements to the decision, perhaps too many to categorize here.
I felt that my perspectives on living a life of ministry were somewhat different to the team leader’s and I anticipated tension as we worked together and just wondered if I had the soul-energy to deal with that just now. I believe a team needs all kinds of personalities to work well, all of us learning from one another, and learning to bend and bounce with one another, so I knew that God would use that regardless to shape and form us if I were to go ahead. So it wasn’t the deciding factor, but it was a factor.
I was also very conscious that between the time I began discussing a partnership between this ministry and I, and now when I was about to take the step, I had started a relationship with a man which God may very well be leading into a lifelong relationship of serving Him together. My year with this ministry suddenly became somewhat illogical in that I would be starting a whole new challenge which he would not be involved in, pulling us more apart in experiences instead of making the space for us to emotionally build our lives and hearts more and more together. And practically, though I would be back in the UK (which we have been very much looking forward to) the time and expense it would take to see one another by train in the same country would be comparable to the time and expense it takes to see one another now by plane in two separate ones. Plus, a full-time ministry schedule is MANIC. My time would forever be farmed out with a combination of days, nights, and weekends, making visits few and far between anyway.
The idea of starting a new challenge which separates our experiences greatly might not have been that big of a deal under different circumstances, as we are two separate people, but the work with this team was never a long-term deal, but more of a “foot-in-the-door” to work with this mission agency overall. The agency and I had begun talking with an eye toward my doing work with their Member Care down the road if I were to continue studying and get qualifications in counseling and pastoral care or missionaries, which was a practical ministry we discussed which was on my heart. This particular team had nothing to do with that, and that work discussed was much further down the road, practically speaking, after further studies, age, and experience. So, it was, in effect, a ministry to bide my time in—though I believe that God is working in everything and by no means want to belittle it. It would have been the experience He was after using to shape and form me more into the image of His Son and to train me for His kingdom work, had it been the direction I went! But it was becoming more restricting to what God seems to be up to with me than releasing now…
Which leads into the reflection on what my heart seems to be shaped for in serving Him anyway, and the realizing, again, that all along my desire for ministry work has been to write, to serve Him in writing. With all the craziness of serving Him in the ministries He’s put before me, while also maintaining my support teams and finding part-time employment in whatever way I could to keep afloat, I have managed to write a bit here and there, and to have a few pieces published, but it has not been given the focus I would so love to give it. And taking on the pressures of fitting into another formal ministry position which didn’t have a focus on a writing ministry didn’t look like a promising step in the right direction…
And finally, and most importantly, really, God had been opening my eyes to my need to slow down and reflect, to get out from under the pressure, to rediscover my place in Him. My body was voicing its exhaustion in all kinds of ways, my emotions and soul were starting to wake up to it, and my God was calling me back to the faith like a child I had started with. What would best lend itself out to focusing on this? It is the deepest thing in life, this relationship. All the rest fades away.
And in that light, I knew.
After my year with Rescue Mission, I was already asking God, “please, Lord, can my next step be a paid job to live a life of ministry with?” So tired of the support-raising life and the pressure of formal ministry. And yet, when He literally handed me a paid job I like doing in preparation for Uganda, I didn’t seem to see it as an answer to prayer. Silly closed eyes! Here again, this job in Sweden was held out to me and I didn’t see it as the answer to that prayer. And then in the 2 days in which I had to make the decision about joining the new ministry even if my heart wasn’t fully in it, I was crying out to Him constantly for wisdom on what to do, and suddenly it hit like a flash, “Isn’t this what you prayed for? Open your eyes!”
And so… all of that to say that I’m entering a new season of following Him. I am not joining any official ministry. I am taking a job I really like and which has been just handed to me in His grace to “tent-make”, with the flexibility to continue building up this relationship with my Londoner as we navigate our way toward a life of serving Him together (Oh, the lessons He is teaching me in Love! Perhaps now I’ll take the time to soak them in...). I am getting involved with an exciting church planting project in my city, reaching out to internationals (which my heart loves). I am finally going to try to lend a bit more focus to a ministry of writing (hence the new blog look—perhaps to document the journey! Or, at any rate, to hone the skill and exercise the mind/heart partnership involved :)), which, in turn, will mean practicing reflection again, practicing the presence of God in the moments, in the happenings, in the thoughts and experiences. It’s how I ponder the wonder of being His. And that relationship is what matters most. And out of that relationship, ministry happens unforced and organic. More of Him, less of me (John 3:30).
It feels a bit scary, it feels a bit bold, to choose to alter the whole of a life plan to focus on getting back to what matters most. But I know that I know that I know, that it’s worth it all. And so, I greet this new season with a mix of trepidation, weariness, excitement and joy (because, after all, belonging to Love itself, “why should the heart not dance?”). And I would love for you to join me on this journey. Let’s scale any wall, forfeit any plans, face any fear to climb up so close to the heart of God that we move with its rhythms. This is how I want to want Him. This is the trust He wants to teach me. So, onward with the lessons…
Here we go.